A Simple Incentive Program and Prize Box Items Students Love!

On March 12, 2020, I wrote a post called Implementing Incentives: The Struggle Is Was Real where I shared my struggle with implementing incentive programs in my studio.

I had intended to follow up that post immediately with a second one sharing what I had ultimately found as a super simple and successful solution to implementing an incentive, more specifics on the program, a list of popular prize box items, and some free downloads from my own programs.

Then COVID-19 hit.

Suddenly, all we could think about was how to transform our studios overnight to online instruction.

The need for hearing about an in-person incentive program and physical prize boxes suddenly felt completely useless at the time, so I decided to put the post on hold in order to do my part to help which included these posts:

A Simple (and Free) Video Supplement to Support Your Online Teaching

Musings on Keeping a Positive Perspective During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Save Time and Money Taking Online Payments with Coinhop

10 Products to Make Your Online Teaching More Comfortable

Healthy Snacks for Long Teaching Days

I haven’t forgotten you though, and so here I am, back on the topic of incentives in the studio!

Each of our situations looks quite different at the moment in our studios with some remaining online, others going back to in-person or some version thereof, and some having to close down their businesses (our hearts go out to you!)

Before we dive in if you didn’t catch the first post, be sure and read it first!

Implementing Incentives: The Struggle Is Was Real


My “Winning” Incentive Program

All in all, my struggles with implementing an incentive program helped me realize what I really needed out of a program. It had to be:

  1. Simple
  2. Flexible
  3. Consistent
  4. Easy to implement
  5. Work for all ages

Not only that, but the program I ultimately landed on also gives students a bonus life skill.

What is it?


Music Money!

I use the Music Money from TCW Resources published by Kjos.

In 2014 I went to a workshop hosted by my local music store put on by Kjos and presented by Charlene Shelzi Jarvis, one of the co-creators of TCW Resources. (If you’ve ever met Charlene at the Kjos booth at a conference, you’ll know how energetic and convincing she is!)

She gave us all kinds of ideas for how to use music money in both private and group classes in a variety of ways.


-It’s simple = you earn money.

-It’s flexible = they can earn it however you choose at any given moment.

-It’s consistent = or can be as much as you like.

-It’s easy to implement = it can be as simple or complex as you want.

– It can work for all ages = older students would be more apt to want to earn money than a sticker!


Getting STarted

How can you get this going?

FIRST, purchase the music money! (Here’s a link to it at Sheet Music Plus.)

(Just a heads up that I’m enrolled in their affiliate program so if you purchase using my link, I’ll get a little back without it costing you any more.)


SECOND, decide what kinds of things/achievements would work in your studio for students to earn money?

It’s good to choose some things that are regularly occurring – like completing their theory pages, as well as a few opportunities to reward personal motivation – like attending a concert or learning a piece that wasn’t assigned
(while still doing their assignments – ha! – you know what I mean! 🙂 )


THIRD, give them a tangible list of how they can earn music money.

If you don’t give them a visual, they will always be asking. Print some kind of a reference sheet whether you keep it in their lesson binder or display it inside a photo frame in your studio.

(At the end of the post, I’ll show you a couple of examples of my sheets.)


FOURTH, determine what kinds of prizes you want to give and how you will give them.

Do you want everything to be at the same price-point (i.e. all $1 items) for simplicity, or do you want them to have a variety of price-point options so they have to decide whether they spend or save?

BOOM – there’s the life skill component: money management! LOL

*P.S. Stay tuned – I have a list of 14 of my top prize box items at the bottom of this post.


FIFTH, decide if you will keep the prize box items out at all times for them to purchase at any time or reserve it for a big shopping party 2-4 times per year.

I always went with the former because I liked the idea of the kids being able to see items they wanted to purchase and learn to save for those items.

(If you put candy in the boxes, beware that it may be tempting on your personal diet to see all those snacks sitting out all the time – especially if there’s another quarantine lockdown LOL.)


SIXTH, figure out the logistics. Will YOU be adding up the total $ earned during or at the end of the lesson or will you go with the honesty policy and let them collect their own earnings?

I’ve done both.

After years and years of calculating their earnings at the end of the lesson, I was over it. I needed to take it out of my own brain, so this past year for the first time, I put out a sign and let them collect on their own. (You’ll see some examples at the end of this post.) Just be aware that if you take this latter route, younger students will still need help.

Do what works for you!


LASTLY, decide how and where the music money will be stored. My suggestion is in an envelope in the studio (not in their piano bag or binder.)

My students keep theirs in small envelopes and store them in a box filed by their first name.

I generally just wrote their names on them but last year I decided to have a little more fun with it and hired one of my high school students who’s an artist to spice them up.

Didn’t she do amazing?


Winning Prize Box Items

For several years, I would ask students on their end-of-year questionnaire what some of their favorite prize box items were and if they had any suggestions. I kept an ongoing list in Evernote.

Here are some favorites:

  1. Bouncy balls
  2. Cool pens, pencils, erasers, etc.
  3. Doritos
  4. Erasable pens, highlighters, and colored pencils
  5. Goldfish
  6. Gum
  7. Hershey’s chocolate bars
  8. Japanese Erasers of any kind
  9. Red Swedish Fish
  10. Skittles
  11. Sour-Patch Kids
  12. Spirit sticks
  13. Squeeze-It KoolAid drinks
  14. Tic-Tac’s (large containers especially)

The types of items you purchase can be also influenced by the age of the kids you have in your studio.

There were two items that were surprisingly not popular as prize-box items in my studio:

  1. $5 cash for X amount of Music Money. (I actually didn’t mind though because it was kind of inconvenient to have to keep a small stash of $5 bills around in case someone wanted to purchase.)
  2. $5 gift cards. (One year I put several in there and they sat forever. I think eventually I just ended up using some of them myself.)

Those years could have been flukes, but I was fine with just sticking with items $5 or less.

Here’s how I calculated what I charged. The way I figured my prices was by calculating the maximum amount a student could earn each week, how much an item of that would be to purchase with their music money and how much I felt I could let go of per week per kid for prizes.

You’ll definitely need to calculate your own rates, but here’s how I based mine:


  • Between $0.00 – $0.30 = $15 prize box item (like mass bags of junk toys from Oriental Trading that costs pennies on the dollar – ha!)
  • Between $0.30 – $1.00 = $50 prize box item
  • Between $1.00 – $2.00 = $100 prize box item
  • Between $2.00 – $3.00 = $150 prize box item
  • Between $3.00 – $4.00 = $200 prize box item
  • Between $4.00 – $5.00 = $250 prize box item

I’ve probably been a little cheap with my reward amounts but I was still spending probably $150-$200 per year on prize box items which is about the maximum I was comfortable with!

Don’t be afraid to spend money for incentive prizes though – it IS a tax write-off.


Examples: Music Money Earnings

Here are four examples of sheets I created in Canva for Music Money earnings over the years.

Three of them have a download link so you can access a PDF if you want to use it in your studio. One of them, unfortunately, does not, as I could not find my original document in order to create a PDF for you – I only had an image.

Music Money

DOWNLOAD the PDF above

DOWNLOAD the PDF above

Music Money

DOWNLOAD the PDF above


Examples: Prize Box Area

My prize box are photos are first from my old studio and then my new studio.

The little clear plastic tubs I found at Target (sorry, I couldn’t find them online to link to – it was quite a few years ago!) as well as the nickel-metal bin labels which hang perfectly off the front of those organizer boxes.


Do you have an incentive program that works really well for you or prize box items that are a hit in your studio? Please share in the comments!



  • Mentos, small squishmallows, battery operated hexbugs, baseball cards, Target gift cards and local Brusters ice cream cards are hits with my students this year! It’s always changing and they love to give me ideas!:)

    • Those are all great ideas! I especially love the idea for gift cards to local stores! I did the hex bugs one year but they can be a little expensive and I had a situation where a student stole one out of the prize box when he thought I wasn’t looking. It’s the only time I’ve ever had that happen and after letting dad know what happened, he made him come shovel snow in front of my studio a couple of times!

    • I’m sorry, I don’t! They were created in Canva. That being said, Canva has so many templates, it’s really easy to create your own! If you haven’t ever tried it, I would highly recommend it!

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